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How did Gareth Bale’s time at Real Madrid get so messy?

Ryan Bailey
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At any other club, Gareth Bale would be considered a legend. In the six seasons since his world-record $115 million move from Tottenham Hotspur, the Welshman has helped Real Madrid win four Champions League titles, four FIFA Club World Cups, the Spanish Cup and the La Liga title.

Not only has Bale been a part of the most successful Los Blancos generation since the 1950s, but his performances have been integral to their success. Take the 2014 Copa del Rey Final, for example, where he blitzed past Marc Batra — sprinting outside the confines of the field — to score a sensational 85th-minute winner.

No player has the right to sprint that fast at that stage in a cup final!

In that same season, Bale broke the deadlock of the Champions League final with an extra time goal that delivered the Spanish giants their first Champions League title in 12 years. Lest we forget, he was the Galactico who delivered the much-anticipated “La Decima” (10th European Cup title).

And of course, four years later, the fullback-turned-forward scored one of the all-time great Champions League final goals with a reflexive bicycle kick against Liverpool.

The final hadn’t seen such a stunning finish since Zinedine Zidane’s famous volley of 2002. And although they played in different roles, it is also interesting to note that Bale has won twice as many trophies and scored more than double the amount of goals of his current manager, in roughly the same amount of games.

Considering this evidence, Real Madrid should be deliberating on the kind of precious metal that will be used to build his statue outside the Bernabeu.

Instead, they are deliberating the best way to cash in on a player who is maligned by his manager, his teammates and his fans.

Real Madrid's Gareth Bale stretches next to Real Madrid's head coach Zinedine Zidane while waiting to come on as substitute during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul White)
Gareth Bale is about to leave Real Madrid, and manager Zinedine Zidane is helping push him out. (Getty)

An uninjured Bale flew to the USA for Madrid’s current International Champions Cup tour, but wasn’t even on the bench for the opening defeat to Bayern Munich in Houston. Rather than name the Welshman among his 19-player squad, Zidane instead named a 17-player squad (accounting for the injured Brahim Diaz).

“Bale’s not in the squad because the club is working on his exit,” Zidane said in the post-match press conference. “We will see what happens in the coming days.”

It is clear that Bale no longer plays a role in Madrid’s future plans, and that the club are working to ensure they do not honor a contract will otherwise pay him $430,000 per week until June 2022.

At the time of writing, Bale is being linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain (involving a swap deal with Neymar), an unlikely return to Tottenham (where he would likely break their wage structure and struggle to overcome his unpleasant 2013 departure) and a big-money move to the Chinese Super League.

Whatever deal Madrid manage to strike for 30-year-old, it seems clear they will not be enforcing the €1 billion buyout clause they placed in his most recent contract.

How did it come to this? In the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, Bale should have been elevated to the status of Real Madrid’s star player. Instead, the club are so keen for him to leave that they are taking the kind of actions that will ultimately weaken their bargaining position and lower his transfer value.

Well, there are a plethora of complex reasons for the messy relationship between Bale and the club, starting with the fickle nature of the fans.

Such are the high standards at the Bernabeu, that a poor performance will result in a chorus of whistling (the Spanish equivalent of jeering or booing). The Madridistas gave Bale his first whistling treatment just five months into his tenure (as per Goal) for the high crime of a misplaced pass against Granada.

He has been jeered on many occasions since, as a result of some inconsistent performances, and perhaps a frustration at the amount of time he has spent on the sidelines.

Real Madrid's French coach Zinedine Zidane (L) looks at Real Madrid's Welsh forward Gareth Bale during a training session at Valdebebas Sport City in Madrid on April 10, 2018 on the eve of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match against Juventus. / AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYS        (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
Zinedine Zidane has not exactly had Gareth Bale's back in Madrid. (Getty)

According to Transfermarkt, Bale has suffered 20 injuries with Madrid, putting him out of action for 72 matches. Hence, the Welshman, whose career has been blighted by hamstring and calf strains, has missed around 24 percent of available matches. When he cannot be relied upon week-in, week-out, it is easy to see why some sections of the fanbase would grow frustrated.

And it appears that his colleagues are also frustrated with his lack of integration with the team. Earlier this year, Thibaut Courtois revealed that Bale eschews team-building dinners in order to go to bed early. He also revealed that he is nicknamed “The Golfer,” due to his predilection for the fairways. (It has been mooted by some that Bale would be prepared to see out the remainder of his contract by playing golf instead, as it is his preferred sport.)

Marcelo, meanwhile, claims that Bale does not speak to his teammates a lot, and will only do so in English. When on camera for a recent promotional video, Bale’s lack of confidence with Spanish was evident.

Reports suggest that Bale does understand and speak some Spanish in the locker room, but after six years in Madrid, his English-only approach in public speaks to a disinterest in assimilation. It is made to look particularly poor by the manner in which his Welsh teammate Aaron Ramsey tackled Italian a matter of days after arriving at Juventus.

An indifferent relationship with the fans, some unfortunate injuries and a lack of lingo could all be surmountable issues. But there is one problem which Bale will ultimately struggle to overcome: His manager doesn’t like him.

Despite advocating for the Welshman’s initial signing in 2013, Zidane appears to have little faith in him — and it is rumored that a reticence to sell Bale contributed to Zidane leaving the club in 2018.

According to Bale’s agent Jonathan Barrett: “Gareth wanted to play one way and Zidane wanted to play another.” Whatever the reason, it is obvious that the manager and player do not see eye to eye.

Gareth Bale has won every domestic honor and clearly remains one of the best players in the world. Objectively, he has had a positive influence on Real Madrid, and his treatment may be regarded as unfair.

However, it takes two to tango, and it is unlikely that the Welshman is completely blameless in the dissolution of his relationship with his employer.

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